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Philippine CAS aircraft bid edges forward

13th June 2017 - 8:51 by Gordon Arthur in Hong Kong

Philippine CAS aircraft bid edges forward

The ongoing and bloody battle to recapture the town of Marawi from Islamic militants of the Maute group in Mindanao is illustrating the seriousness of delays in Philippine Air Force (PAF) efforts to acquire six new close air support (CAS) aircraft.

Efforts to select a CAS platform have been tarrying for four years with failures to advance beyond pre-bidding on three previous occasions. However, on 7 June one contender was declared sole compliant bidder.

A pre-bid conference held last month witnessed three vendors attending: Embraer proffering the EMB 314 Super Tucano, Beechcraft with its AT-6B Texan II Wolverine and Aero Vodochody pushing its L-39NG

Others such as the TAI’s Hürkųs from Turkey and the KAI KA-1 from South Korea had expressed interest but decided not to enter a bid. Air Tractor, which was promoting its AT-802U at ADAS 2016, also appears to have decided not to enter. 

Aero Vodochody was planning to offer six new L-39NG aircraft and two refurbished L-39 Albatross trainers upgraded to the same standard. However, the Czech company submitted no bid, therefore leaving Embraer and Beechcraft to slug it out.

However, the Philippines declared that Beechcraft’s eligibility and technical component of the bid did not met requirements, and so it was disqualified. This left Embraer as the single lowest calculated compliant bidder.

The Super Tucano has long been regarded as the favourite to win this competition, and some believe the specifications were based around those of the Brazilian aircraft. An EMB 314 was even despatched to the Philippines early in 2016 to allow PAF pilots to fly it.

Philip Windsor, Embraer’s business development manager in Asia-Pacific, said his company’s offering is a ‘fully compliant solution’, More than 250 examples have been purchased by 13 different air forces, including 16 by neighbouring Indonesia.

The AT-6 Wolverine is not currently operated by any air force, which presented a challenge for Beechcraft to ensure it complied with Philippine procurement regulations that require the winning platform to be in use by either the manufacturing nation’s military, or at least two other foreign militaries.

However, Tom Webster, Beechcraft Defense’s vice president of business development Asia Pacific, deemed this not to be an obstacle. He told Shephard at ADAS 2016 that the T-6 trainer, on which the AT-6 is based, is already in widespread service.

After this declaration concerning the Super Tucano’s eligibility, the PAF will now conduct a post-bid qualification inspection. If successful, the PAF will recommend that the Department of National Defense issue a letter of award to Embraer, a step that will presage a contract.

Shephard understands that Embraer will need to deliver six aircraft by 2019 once a contract is signed.

Ageing Rockwell OV-10 Bronco and Alenia Aermacchi SF-260TP aircraft have been performing intensive CAS missions dropping precision-guided and dumb bombs on the city of Marawi, where fighting has raged since 23 May. 

In a tragic case of fratricide, an SF-260TP from the 17th Attack Squadron dropped a bomb there that killed 11 soldiers and wounded another seven on 31 May. 

As well as the six aircraft currently under tender, the PAF will seek to procure additional platforms under future phases of its modernisation programme. Indeed, there is speculation that the PAF will eventually need 24 aircraft to completely replace the OV-10 and SF-260TP inventory of the 15th Strike Wing.

Certainly, the fighting raging in Marawi has demonstrated the Philippine military’s desperate need for close air support.

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